Christmas for many is the season for celebrating, socialising and catching up with our nearest and dearest. But it can also be a time of year where we tend to overindulge particularly, when we find ourselves surrounded by delicious food and drink 😊
We already know that on Christmas day alone it is not uncommon for people to consume as much as 6000kcal. That’s around 3 times more calories than what is needed by the average adult in one day. And that’s not including all the other days over the festive season.
Many may accept overindulgence for what it is and decide to make changes or lose any weight gained in the new year, but for anyone actively trying to lose weight or stay healthy, Christmas can make ‘being good’ difficult!
So, is it possible to make small changes to ensure that a healthy diet doesn’t go completely out the window?
Here are some top tips for keeping your diet healthier this Christmas
Planning and Shopping
Yes, it’s Christmas, but not every day (as much as we might wish!) so it’s important to make a shopping list and ensure that you buy your usual essentials in addition to any festive treats. Stock your cupboard and fridge- freezer with healthy nutritious and quick options to help avoid the temptation for takeaways and excessive snacks.
Plan Ahead - think about how many people you will be cooking for and how many guests you may have visiting over Christmas. Remember shops no longer tend to close for the whole festive period so you should be able to access food on an ‘as needed’ basis, rather than buying too much food which may increase the likelihood of overeating.
While it may be tempting to fill the trolley with tins of biscuits and sweets try and limit these purchases and choose healthier snacks instead. Some examples include:
- Satsumas, Figs, Dried fruits e.g. cranberries
- Crudités (peppers/ carrots / cucumber/ celery) served with homemade avocado dip, salsa or low-fat yoghurt dips
- Breadsticks / Pretzels / Popcorn
- Nuts (unsalted is preferable) or almonds
- Wholegrain or seeded crackers and low fat cheese spread
Top Tip: Look out for the traffic lights on food labels – these are coloured in red, amber and green and can help you to make healthier food choices. The more green traffic lights, the healthier the food item!
Start the day well by choosing a healthy breakfast. A high fibre breakfast cereal like Weetabix or warm porridge oats will help keep you full and prevent you grazing while cooking the Christmas dinner. If porridge doesn’t take your fancy why not try wholegrain toasted bread or fruit loaf with ½ a grapefruit or a bowl of seasonal fruit and low-fat yoghurt.
Top tip: make your porridge festive by adding a tablespoon of dried cranberries, ¼ of a grated apple and warmed cinnamon milk (milk heated with a tsp of honey and cinnamon to taste!).
Keep your starters light so that you leave room for the main event!
Help get your 5 + a day by choosing a lower calorie fruit or vegetable option e.g. a melon wedge or a vegetable based soup (without cream). Smoked Salmon is also a good low-calorie choice, serve with a lemon wedge and a side of salad to boost your vitamin C. For classic dishes which tend to contain high calorie dressings e.g. prawn cocktail or egg mayonnaise consider buying a ‘light’ mayo or dress with a low-calorie vinaigrette.
The Main Event – Christmas Dinner
Turkey tends to be popular in most Irish households, and as a lean meat it is a much healthier choice than duck or goose.
If you are serving ham with your turkey, consider choosing an unsmoked joint and ‘pre-boil’ in advance of roasting to help leach some of the salt. Remove any visible fat and carve thinly.
Salmon is a good alternative to meat.
Top tip: avoid eating the skin on the turkey as this contains unneeded calories and saturated fat.
Potatoes: Boiled or mashed potatoes (mash with a low-fat milk and a knob (teaspoon) of margarine or an olive oil based spread) are a preferable option to calorie laden roast potatoes. If you can’t resist a roastie then using a non-stick pan (which requires less oil) roast your potatoes whole (as small chunks absorb more oil) in an unsaturated vegetable oil e.g. rapeseed or sunflower oil instead of using butter, goose fat or lard.
Vegetables: aim to fill half of your plate with steamed or boiled unbuttered vegetables e.g. carrots, brussels, peas, broccoli etc Remember you should still aim for your 5 + a day even at Christmas!
Sauces and stuffing: if you are making homemade gravy using meat juices remember to ‘skim’ the fat from the top before serving. Choose low fat milk for any milk based sauces e.g. bread sauce and use a fruit or chestnut base instead of a sausage meat for the stuffing.
Top tip: keep the balance right – in your head visually divide your plate in three and aim for 25% potatoes, 25% turkey and 50% vegetables! Avoid heaping food or going back for seconds!
Dessert and Afters
If you can manage a dessert after all that you’ll be doing well 😊.
Christmas pudding tends to be packed with fruit and is reasonably low in fat so keep it this way by serving with low fat custard or crème fraiche. Mince pies are another popular pudding choice, why not make your own using filo pastry which has less butter (hence less fat and calories) than shortcrust pastry.
And if you haven’t achieved you 5 + a day by dessert time why not take the opportunity to make a fruit based dessert e.g. bowl of fresh fruit salad served with frozen yoghurt or a scoop of ice cream or stewed apples with cinnamon and low fat custard.
While it’s certainly the time of year for festive cheer we should remember that alcohol contains calories and our food choices are often poorer when we drink.
Some ways to help reduce calories from alcohol include:
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with a glass of water
- Choose low calorie or diet mixers and tonics
- Dilute wines with sparkling water to make a ‘spritzer’
- Avoid cocktails which tend to have a high amount of sugar
- Continue to ensure you have at least two alcohol free days each week
Be sure to drink plenty of water before going to bed and avoid the temptation of a morning fry up! A good cooked alternative to a high calorie fry up includes; omelettes packed with veggies and leftover Christmas ham, poached eggs with smoked salmon and avocado or scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast with a side of grilled tomatoes and mushrooms.
If eating healthy doesn’t quite go to plan then make sure to try and increase your physical activity – try dancing the night away at the Christmas party or getting out and about for a few ‘power’ walks over the festive season!